Is Bill Maher Right That "Libertarians Have to Stop Ruining Libertarianism"?


On a recent episode of his HBO show, Bill Maher created a "new rule" concerning libertarians:

Libertarians have to stop ruining libertarianism! Or at least do a better job of explaining the difference between today's libertarian and just being a selfish prick. Now, many years ago on a television network far, far away, I expressed support for libertarianism because back then it meant I didn't want big government in my bedroom, in my medicine chest, and especially not in the second drawer of the nightstand on the left side of my bed. And I still believe that. But somewhere along the way, libertarianism morphed into this creepy obsession with free-market capitalism based on an Ayn Rand called Atlas Shrugged, a book that's never been read all the way through by anybody with a girlfriend….

Libertarians also hate Medicare and Social Security and there are problems with those programs but here's the thing: It beats stepping over lepers and watching human skeletons shit in the river and I also like not seeing those things. I'm selfish that way!

Hat tip: Mediaite's Josh Feldman and Garrett Quinn.

Watch the whole bit before weighing in. Sure, Maher's rant is filled with various cliches (Ayn Rand, nerd jokes, conflation of regulation and safety, etc) and elisions. It's also funny—and a pretty interesting and coherent glimpse into the way that libertarians are viewed by left-leaning liberals. Maher stresses that he didn't "leave libertarianism"; rather the movement went "nuts."

You can dismiss everything he says easily, logically, emotionally and bring up all the myriad ways in which he's just WRONG WRONG WRONG and how he's really a COMMIE DOUCHEBAG who hates womenz and all that (that is what unmoderated comments sections are for, right?).

But for anybody interested in growing the influence and impact of liberatarian ideas, it's worth thinking about the ways in which the libertarian identity fails to move a guy who is anti-prohibition, anti-empire (belatedly!), pro free expression, and pro-much more that falls in line with a libertarian perspective. For better or worse, a Venn diagram of Maher and libertarianism is going to show a huge amount of overlap on things. The same is common among right-wingers too, where many people agree with libertarians on anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of issues but recoil from any association with the label or the beautiful, clean-smelling, super-smart, and just-swell folks who self-identify as libertarian.

Without betraying core values, are there ways we can reach these simpatico folks on the right or the left, so as to kickstart (perpetuate!) what Matt Welch and I once bravely called "The Libertarian Moment" and wrote a whole book about?